Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection Launches Book and Virtual Portal with Australian Ambassador
Much of Kluge-Ruhe’s collection of 2200 objects has never been published. In November of 2021, Kluge-Ruhe launched a comprehensive catalog and virtual resource to accompany the exhibition Irrititja Kuwarri Tjungu (Past & Present Together): Fifty Years of Papunya Tula Artists, which is on view at Kluge-Ruhe through February 2023. Ambassador Sinodinos and University of Virginia President Jim Ryan released the publication during a reception at the museum.
Containing more than 150 color plates depicting artworks and essays by an extraordinary array of artists, curators, scholars, and collectors, the book tells the story of a small group of Aboriginal artists from Australia’s remote Central and Western Deserts who changed the face of global art history. The book and online resource chart the artists’ very first experiments on scraps of cardboard, linoleum, and masonite in the early 1970s through to the epic, abstract paintings that travel the world today. Motivated by the artists' desire to preserve and transmit their cultural knowledge in the face of great adversity and displacement, the movement quickly grew into an artistic renaissance that has also served as a powerful medium for economic and social justice. From humble beginnings in a remote desert, a multimillion-dollar industry emerged, creating a powerful voice for Indigenous artists.
Artist Joseph Jurra Tjapaltjarri said, “This is for all the people in America looking at the pictures, all the canvases: Kulila (listen), this is our Tjukurrpa, martupura Tjukurrpa (important business) from the old people, men and women.”
Now having operated for fifty years, Papunya Tula Artists is one of the oldest and most successful Indigenous-owned companies in Australia. Artist Bobby West Tjupurrula remarked, “It’s going to be a really good celebration for Anangu tjurtangku (all the Aboriginal people). All around Australia and in the museum in America, which is a good thing, because Papunya Tula has never failed, it’s still going.”
Fred Myers, Silver Professor of Anthropology at New York University, co-edited the book with Henry Skerritt, Curator of the Indigenous Arts of Australia at Kluge-Ruhe. Myers said, “Australians have had many opportunities to see substantial numbers of these early Papunya works. They are collected and exhibited in all of the major public galleries and explored in surveys and retrospective exhibitions…This collection of works, exhibited in two parts over two years, is more comprehensive, both representatively and perhaps aesthetically, than any other previously circulated in the United States. It allows viewers to appreciate the originality, range, and vitality of the Papunya Tula Artists’ work over the company’s fifty-year history.”
Highlights of the book include contributions by actor and comedian Steve Martin, who began collecting Aboriginal art in 2015, and curator Hetti Perkins, whose long association with Papunya Tula Artists resulted in the exhibition Genesis and Genius at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2000. Original research and consultation with artists and their descendants was conducted by John Kean, who served as manager of Papunya Tula Artists during the 1980s.
In addition to the book, Kluge-Ruhe is releasing an online portal allowing visitors from anywhere in the world to explore the artworks and artists in the exhibition. This resource brings the breadth of the exhibition to light in a virtual gallery centered around five central questions about the story of the artists and their work. While it is designed to be accessible for the student, the scholar, and the casual visitor with a budding interest, it also includes lesson plans for teachers produced in partnership with the Art Gallery of South Australia.
After it closes at Kluge-Ruhe, Irrititja Kuwarri Tjungu (Past & Present Together) will be the premier exhibition when the newly constructed Embassy of Australia opens in Washington DC in March 2023.
In his first trip to the University of Virginia since his posting in February 2020, Ambassador Sinodinos met with members of UVA’s faculty and senior administration and delivered a public lecture at the Batten School of Leadership on Friday, November 19, 2021.
The book is being distributed by University of Virginia Press and is available for purchase here. Those who wish to visit the exhibition at Kluge-Ruhe can do so by making a reservation on Kluge-Ruhe’s website here. The online portal is accessible on Kluge-Ruhe’s website at papunyatula.kluge-ruhe.org.
Irrititja Kuwarri Tjungu (Past & Present Together) was supported by a grant from the Gordon Darling Foundation, Molly and Robert Hardie and the H7 Foundation, Agatha and Stephen Luczo, the Embassy of Australia, UVA Parents Fund, UVA Arts Council, the Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures, the Department of Art, the Mapping Indigenous Worlds Lab, UVA Arts, and the Office of the Provost and the Vice Provost for the Arts.